Tuesday, October 28, 2008

As you sow…

All actions, good or bad, have consequences, good and bad. That’s the point of the old aphorism, “as you sow, so shall you reap”. Those consequences may be intended or not, but they’ll happen.

In politics, people argue about the extent to which the consequences of the other side’s actions were intended, especially when those consequences are bad. The fact is, words have meaning and it’s at best naïve, and at worst intensely dishonest, to deny that.

We’ve seen the dog whistle politics of the Palin/McCain campaign and the Republicans generally; they’ve used all sorts of inflammatory rhetoric to suggest that Barack and Democrats aren’t “real” Americans, that they’re “different”—and those are merely the “kinder” words. Now we see some on the political right declaring all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories and using some truly bizarre words to describe their opponents. Words have meaning.

As the rhetoric of the right becomes more and more heated—and irrational—it will inevitably lead to violence. I fully expect to see attacks on Barack’s supporters, or Democrats generally, as Republicans become angrier and more desperate and their rhetoric becomes ever more extreme. Words have meaning—and consequences.

The FBI recently released a report on the incidence of hate crimes in the US during 2007*. The FBI doesn’t draw year-on-year comparisons because there are differing numbers of official agencies reporting hate crimes. Nevertheless, hate crimes overall were down about 1% in 2007, except in one category: Hate crimes against gay people were up 6%.

While the report found that blacks, Jews and gays were the most frequent victims of hate crimes, only gay people experienced an increase in crimes directed at them. During 2007, anti-gay rhetoric started escalating as christianist fundamentalists began gearing up for their anti-marriage equality electoral campaigns. Some of that rhetoric has been nothing less than hate speech, using lies, smears, defamation and distortions, hiding behind the First Amendment. Words have meaning—and consequences.

So when the christianist fundamentalists get away with portraying gay people as evil, criminal, conspiring to destroy America, anti-God, etc., etc., etc., no one should be surprised when hate crimes against gay people increase. We are, in fact, the last minority it’s socially acceptable to hate openly (thought Muslims are a close second among many Americans). Words have meaning—and consequences.

I’ve said before that rational Christians have a responsibility to call out christianist fundamentalists on their hate speech. So, too, the mainstream media shouldn’t allow the far right to get away with blatantly lying about gay people (as the anti-marriage equality haters are doing in California). But neither seems willing to act responsibly to counter hate, and that, too has consequences.

We’ll continue to see an increase in hate crimes against gay people in America, and very probably other kinds of hate crimes will be up, too, in the report covering 2008 because the rhetoric this year is even worse and more extreme than in 2007.

Words have meaning—and consequences.

*The FBI started collecting statistics on hate crimes after enactment of the Hate Crime Statistics Act, signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1990. I lobbied hard for the passage of that law, including convincing a conservative Democratic US Senator from Illinois to become a co-sponsor. Because of that work, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force invited me to join them in watching the president sign the bill into law. It was the first time any federal law had included gay, lesbian and bisexual people—by name—as an enumerated class. It was also the first time that gay activists had been invited to a White House signing ceremony.

1 comment:

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